USA charges Low, ex-Goldman bankers in 1MDB case

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Prosecutors announced that Tim Leissner, former partner for Goldman Sachs in Asia, had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and agreed to forfeit $43.7 million.

1Malaysia Development Bhd., better known as 1MDB, is at the heart of a scandal which allegedly saw $4.5 billion misappropriated from the fund.

The scandal has prompted investigations around the world and played a role in the election defeat earlier this year of Malaysia's former prime minister, Najib Razak, who is accused of pocketing $US700m from the fund he set up. Authorities say billions of dollars were embezzled from the state fund to buy art, property, a private jet - and even to help finance the Wolf of Wall Street film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Among its services, it helped raise $6.5 billion for the fund and earned nearly $600 million in fees for the bond issuance. Authorities had been negotiating a plea deal with the former bankers for several months, and reportedly charged them with conspiring to commit money laundering and violation of anti-bribery laws.

A lawyer for Leissner could not immediately be reached for comment.

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In an online chat between Low and Leissner in June 2014, Low and Leissner "discussed the need to "suck up to" a 1MDB official and to send "cakes" to a person believed to be the wife of Malaysian Official #1", U.S. authorities said in a statement. Low, who previously said he did consulting work for 1MDB, is portrayed by some global investigators as the mastermind behind some of the schemes involving missing funds.

USA prosecutors had painted Low as a bon vivant and a central figure who set up shell companies and arranged the transfers of tens of millions of dollars to pay Malaysian government officials, while Singapore investigators have called him a "key person of interest". It was not known who was representing Mr. Ng.

Low, who remains at large, issued a statement through a spokesman maintaining his innocence.

Mr Daim said that on one occasion, he demanded that Low return to Malaysia and provide names involved in the 1MDB corruption scandal.

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The three-count indictment on Thursday charges Low Taek Jho of misappropriating money from the state-owned fund and using it to bribe foreign officials and to pay for luxury real estate, art and jewelry in the USA and to fund Hollywood film, including "The Wolf of Wall Street".

Goldman has, in the past, repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and said it is cooperating fully with the authorities. After the bond transaction was executed, more than US$500 million of the bond proceeds were misappropriated into shell companies controlled by Low, Leissner, Ng and other co-conspirators, the government alleged. The new Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, has moved quickly to investigate the alleged theft of billions of dollars from the investment fund, which was created under Mr. Najib. He has called the Malaysian charges political.

Najib has pleaded not guilty to all the charges and has consistently denied wrongdoing.

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